As of July 2014, 14.1 percent of young people ages 16-24 are neither working nor enrolled in school.[i] This percentage has barely changed in the last few years, despite the fact that the national unemployment rate is falling. In North Carolina, youth unemployment is at a staggering 18.8 percent.[ii] That’s nearly 1 in 5 of every North Carolinian youth looking for work. And the youth who do enter the workforce are likely to be underprepared for their careers.

“Roughly half of all young Americans arrive in their mid-twenties without the skills or labor market credentials needed for success in today’s increasingly demanding economy.”[iii]

A new report by North Carolina New Schools highlights growing efforts to address these issues and create stronger school-to-career pipelines in North Carolina. The NC Pathways to Prosperity Leadership Council is part of the national Pathways to Prosperity Network, and seeks to “ensure that more youth complete high school and attain a post-secondary credential with currency in the labor market.”[iv] The program is still in its development stages, but already look promising.

In 2011, the Leadership Council selected two regions – the rural Northeastern region, including Halifax, Washington, and Beaufort counties; and the suburban Southwestern region including Cabarrus, Iredell, and Rowan counties – as pilot sites for the new programs.

These two areas have very different labor markets, needs, and problems. Northeastern North Carolina is becoming a strong area for biotechnology and agriscience, and the aerospace/aviation industry also represents a large part of the regional economy. The Southwestern region is North Carolina’s automotive hub, with strong growth in biomedical, transportation, finance, and energy. This region also has a troubling skills gap in computer science and IT – there aren’t enough skilled laborers to fill available jobs.[v]

The Leadership Council has developed healthcare, agriscience, and biotech pathways in the Northeast, whereas in the Southwest region they’re targeting transportation/logistics, automotive, and advanced manufacturing pathways. Each pathway is incorporating input from regional employers as well as local high school, chambers of commerce, and universities and community colleges.

While each pathway varies in its focus and achievement metrics, they share the goals of increasing the number of students who earn a Career Readiness Certificate and industry credential, increasing the number of college-level courses student complete, and engaging with the business community to ensure the youth are gaining skills that employers really need.

The Pathways to Prosperity program is still very new, so there aren’t many results to report. But there’s good reason to be optimistic: the level of buy-in from educators, communities, and employers is already strong, and their models show definite promise. Think will be checking in on this bold move to change career outcomes for North Carolina’s youth.

[i] Samuels, Robert. (October 27 2014). “The young and the disconnected: America’s youth unemployment problem.” Washington Post. Available at

[ii] Governing. (2013). “Youth Unemployment Rate, Figures by State.” Available at

[iii] North Carolina New Schools. (October 2014). Findings from the Field: Regional Pathways to Prosperity Model Development. Available at

[iv] See note iii.

[v] Ibid.